Soft Ice Cream
Your face is sticky with ice cream, thick rivers of it running from the corners of your mouth, collecting across the backs of your hands. You use your spoon like a shovel, small, soupy islands falling across your shorts. You scoop them up with your fingers, a line of dirt caked around each nail. You pop your whole hand in your mouth, and my mother, your grandmother, grimaces and searches her bag for some way to clean you. I laugh as I step back into the kitchen because even if she finds something, you’ll never let her use it.
Outside, the trees are whispering, and the wind is picking up until the sky turns a sandy gray that reminds me of wool, all those itchy sweaters my mother brought with her from New England that lay in stacks in her closet. The hair on my arms stands up and even in the heat of the kitchen, I wish I had a jacket. The wind rattles the chimes hanging from the corners of the rafters like a swan song, it plucks at the skirts and t-shirts I’ve clipped to the front door of the shop. They bounce and flutter, calling for customers to come on in.
In the kitchen, the smell of pie is so dense I can feel it butting up against my skin, Buttery flakes of crust fill the air and land on my cheeks, sticking in my eyelashes like glitter. Brown sugar coats the back of my throat, my fingertips, the edges of my hairline. I can feel gritty hideaways slipping down the front of my shirt, lodging themselves in the shelf of my bra as crimp edges and arrange latticework.
In the shop, the girls are calling out orders to one another and back to the customers. Their voices catch on the wind and bounce around the small shop, circling the line of people, the kids with their faces pressed to the glass of the display case, fingers jammed against it in wanting. The smell of coffee burns my nose, the acid texture of the beans so searingly different from the velvet sweetness of the kitchen.
Your father is sitting with you as you finish eating, I can see the three of you as I step behind the counter to check what we have against the orders coming in. He licks his fingers to wipe the sticky milk from your cheeks. Your grandmother shakes her head as you pick up your cup of soupy ice cream and suck it down like a shake, most of it making its way onto the front of your shirt like a bib. The wisps of your hair are flying around your face in a way that makes me think of clouds and soft things. I can see them playing peek a boo with each other as they dart out from behind your ears and your father and grandmother tuck them back in.
The girls are calling my name from the store, their questions whizzing past me as I make my way through the back door. The air is heavy with the weight of the coming rain. I can almost feel the drops of it on my skin. I step out the back door and watch the sky turn a soupy green. The wind catches my apron and whips it into my face, stinging my eyes with leftover flour caught in the creases. Behind me, the house is groaning under the weight of the weather. I can hear the wood paneling clacking in anger, the floorboards whispering their unease.
The wind comes around the corner, wraps me in a hug that feels like it’s tearing at my flesh. Small pieces of rock burst against my skin like miniature fireworks, the scream of the clouds fills my own lungs and then quickly deflates them, and when I leave, no one sees it coming.